Nu Jiang: The Angry River
Nu Jiang Liuku Autonomous Prefecture
June 11, 2014
My Dear Fellow Travelers, and anyone who yearns for adventure,
In the early morning hours, from my hotel window in Bingzhongluo, I gaze in amazement at the cloud-covered valley of “The Angry River.” “The Furious River.” “The River of Rage.” The Nu Jiang. 怒江
Amazed? Sure. I am feeling so fortunate to be here.
The Nu Jiangis a river 2,815 kilometers (1,749 mi) long, that flows (flows? roars!) from the Tibetan Plateau into the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia. It drains a narrow and mountainous watershed of 324,000 square kilometers (125,000 sq mi) that extends into the countries of China, Burma and Thailand.
Steep canyon walls line the swift, powerful and undammed Nu Jiang (Salween in Burma), one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the world. Its extensive drainage basin supports a biodiversity comparable with the Mekong and is home to about seven million people. In 2003, key parts of the mid-region watershed of the river were included within the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (The three rivers: Nu Jiang, Mekong and upper Yangtze.)
And does it roar! The Nu Jiang current crashes over the rocky river bed, white water everywhere along its riotous route. No boats, no fisherman, no wading, no swimming. Mile after mile, kilometer after kilometer of a treacherous, turbulent, deadly path to the sea.
Amazed? Sure! I feel so privileged to be here.
When I first read about this area, I understood that a journey to the Nu Jiang was unlikely. Gongshan County is the last frontier in Yunnan, the most remote and least accessible county in the province. And the town of Bingzhongluo is literally at the end of the road.
Except for a big bend in the north, my roadmap shows a straight line from the city of Liuku. But is the road in good condition? Are there services along the way? How long will it take to reach my goal at the end of the road?
Ilian my guide had never been in this area and our driver from Liuku was reluctant to make the trip during the rainy season. The road is paved and well-maintained but there are reports that the rain causes unpredictable and dangerous landslides that can block traffic for days. Who wants to be in the wrong place at precisely the wrong time?
The sun is shining on the morning we scheduled to leave Liuku. So we take a chance, and head off into the unknown.
The noisy river is never out of sight. We stop to take photos and videos.* We stop to stroll through local markets. We stop overnight at Fugong, a town about halfway to our destination.
We stop at a river crossing.
In the not too distant past, the only way to cross the river was on a rickety bridge made of woven bamboo. The bamboo has been replaced by steel and concrete walkways and bridges that carry vehicular traffic. But since many people live in remote villages that dot the mountainside, distant bridges are impractical. So, how to cross the river? The answer: attached to a steel cable!
At the roadside, I watched as a local man affixed a harness to his daughter and himself. Then he attached a steel roller to the cable and in an instant he was whisked across the river to the opposite bank.
Before I left for China, I had read a personal account of a traveler and author who decided to strap himself to the cable and cross the river. When the local folks heard about his bravery, he became an instant hero. (The author intimated that this is a great way to impress a girl.) **
Are you wondering about me? Ha!
Are you wondering about the accommodations in this “last frontier” and “least accessible county?” Frankly, I was mentally prepared for something less than comfortable.
In Fugong, I was shown a large room with wide-screen TV, king-size bed and a modern bathroom. And at a very low price. Just down the hall was a suite! Two baths, two TVs, wifi. In the sitting room, the ubiquitous mahjong table. A slightly higher low price.
In Bingzhongluo, another suite! Hand carved wooden furniture. The same low price.
But the view?
The Clouds. The Valley. The River. The Big Bend!
What is there left to say?
I am astounded that I am here.
**Yunnan: China South of the Clouds. Jim Goodman. Odyssey Books and Guides. Hong Kong. pp452-455.